Should you hire a marketing agency or build a team in-house?

Leveraging expertise while building a brand-driven marketing team for your business.

Warren Thompson - Ollo Metrics Managing Director

By WARREN THOMPSON

March 5, 2019 – 5 min read

Build an in-house team or hire an agency? 

It’s a difficult question to answer without having first-hand experience in both worlds. Ideally, you want a solution that leverages outside expertise, fast-tracks implementation, builds your brand equity, and doesn’t waste money.

Who is this for?

This guide is for business owners and marketing decision-makers who want to improve their digital marketing efforts, but are uncertain which direction will provide the greatest benefit to their organization. 

Maybe you have a small marketing team and have lost a key person recently. Maybe you’ve been working with an agency or freelancers for a while and are wondering if it’s time to bring things in-house. 

Each scenario offers pros and cons. My recommendation, as you’ll see, is a hybrid of the two, offering you the advantages of each, but without many of the disadvantages. Here’s how..

Advantages to Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Expertise

Working with a capable agency gives you access to deep expertise across a wide array of marketing functions. Often times, your in-house marketer gets too busy with day-to-day activities, or distractions, and does not have the time to build up the necessary expertise that allows him or her to deep dive into a topic. 

Agency structures allow for a single person to specialize in a particular marketing function, such as pay-per-click advertising, across multiple clients. Then, they are able to apply that expertise across multiple businesses and see patterns and industry trends which can be used to improve the results of each one.

In many cases, agencies also specialize in specific niches, allowing them to get a higher overall view and a wider picture of issues or challenges that are occurring before it gets too late. This helps you to turn potential threats or weaknesses into opportunities.

Predictability

Today’s typical marketing career path looks more like a series of jumps between companies than a linear path into senior leadership. People don’t stay with companies like they used to, and losing a key person on the team is very disruptive. 

Having an agency partner ensures that your marketing efforts won’t be stalled at the most inopportune time. It will still be disruptive if a key member at your agency quits or change roles, but it’s the agency’s job to replace that person and train them over the next 3-6 months, not yours.

Scalability

When you hire a digital marketing agency, they are able to turn on the taps quickly in ways an in-house team can’t. A digital agency can act as a separate engine that drives things forward in a more efficient way while easing pressure on your internal team, whether that be a marketing team of one or fifteen. 

This also makes it much cheaper and faster to ratchet up your marketing program versus hiring someone new, onboarding them, and training them.

Perspective

Experienced marketing agencies will also bring a completely different perspective to your business. When you live and breathe your business day-in and day-out, you can develop large blindspots in your strategy. Having an outside expert that works with multiple businesses will help you leverage best practices and stay ahead of the curve.

Advantages to Building a Team In-House

Culture

Building a marketing team in-house will ensure that the people you hire are the right fit for your company’s culture. In my experience, most marketing people are also very friendly and tend to make the work atmosphere more fun (as long as that’s ok!).

Industry Knowledge

Are you in a specialized niche? It will be advantageous to hire someone in-house who knows the industry inside and out. They will likely need to leverage outside marketing resources, but their experience and insight may be very valuable beyond what a typical agency can offer.

Communication

Hiring a marketing team in-house will increase communication between marketing and the sales, buying, and customer service teams. However, this needs to be a very deliberate effort. When your marketing team is plugged into the other departments of your organization, it should allow them to be more agile and respond to the needs of your customers faster. 

Consistency of Brand Voice

With the proper training, the people within your brand are ideal for communicating your brand voice because they live and breathe it every day. That’s why I believe that functions like organic social media content are more difficult to outsource unless you’re working with an agency partner who deeply understands you. Even then, you should have a solid pulse on what they’re publishing. “Set it and forget it” doesn’t work here.

Is Hiring In-House Cheaper Than Hiring an Agency?

At first glance, hiring a marketing agency may seem like the more expensive option. The dollar-per-hour cost is definitely higher. However, when you factor in the cost of enterprise software, office space, recruitment, hiring, onboarding, training, benefits, bonuses, vacations, and mentoring, things start to stack up differently. 

The deciding factor here is the size and scope of your organization. Larger, more complex organizations should consider bringing more marketing functions in-house because they have the economies of scale to hire team members who can specialize in specific functions across multiple domains. An example of this might be an auto dealer group with 5+ locations or an e-commerce business with multiple websites. 

One caveat however will be ensuring that your internal team gets the appropriate training and mentorship from outside specialists so that they stay motivated and don’t fall behind marketing trends.

Warning: Be Realistic With Your Expectations

If you scan job boards for entry-level digital marketing positions, you’ll come across variations of the following job ad – maybe you’ve even created one yourself: 

“Digital Marketing Specialist – Entry-Level Position” “….Demonstrates a high level of proficiency in Google Ads, Analytics, Search Console, Facebook Advertising, Hoot Suite, Hubspot, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript” 

Do I really need to outline the myriad ways that this is absurd and unrealistic? 

The problem is that the chasm between senior leadership skills and digital marketing chops grows wider each year as new marketing technologies continue to sprout up. Senior-level managers are playing catch-up to understand the latest 3-letter acronyms and platform changes, while entry-level marketers are scrambling to learn tactics that can be extremely costly when not implemented properly. 

My advice is to be realistic with your expectations. Don’t expect that a new graduate or digital marketing coordinator with 1-2 years experience will have the skills or insight that an agency will have.

The 'Agency Guidance' Model

After years of testing and building a marketing team while I was Marketing Director at Kintec: Footwear + Orthotics, our preferred method of operating was what I’ll refer to as the ‘Agency Guidance’ Model. 

In this model, you have a solid foundation at your head of marketing who deeply understands your customers and culture. Then, you fill the key roles within your marketing team that are closely linked to brand equity with your current customers – roles like partnerships, organic social media, and email communication. 

“From the perspective of working as a client-side marketer for 10 years, my team’s motivation and effectiveness was directly linked to our opportunities to work with other marketing professionals outside of our organization.”

If possible, having at least one to three passionate marketing people in-house will allow you to keep your brand voice consistent while leveraging an agency for strategy, expertise, technology, and implementation. It’ll also give your marketing team support, education, and motivation by allowing them to connect and learn from other marketing professionals. 

I’d like to emphasize that last point. From the perspective of working as a client-side marketer for 10 years, my team’s motivation and effectiveness was directly linked to our opportunities to work with other marketing professionals outside of our organization.

Take Away Points

In conclusion, whether you hire an agency or build a team in-house, tie the decision back to your organization’s complexity, culture, experience, and goals. My suggestion is to choose a hybrid of the two so that you get the benefits of each. Plus, if you want to have a killer in-house marketing team, then you’ll need someone to train them and keep them motivated. 

This is why we offer ‘Digital Lab Training’ along with our digital marketing services. It gives your team access to experienced digital marketing professionals who can coach them on the latest strategies and tactics while working directly on improving your website and business. 

The problem with the ‘old’ agency model was, and still is, the protection of knowledge. Agencies have been known to keep their expertise hidden in a ‘black box’ so that they can keep billing their clients for things they barely understand. 

We believe that by educating our clients and creating easy-to-understand dashboards, they can become stronger, make better decisions, and we can grow their business better together.

Anything you’d like to add or comment on? Please let me know your thoughts at warren(at)ollometrics.com.

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